Britain Sends Military Team to Libya as NATO Planes Hit Qaddafi Loyalists
The U.K. dispatched a team of military advisers to assist Libyan rebels fighting to topple Muammar Qaddafi as NATO jets destroyed tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers near a rebel-held city.
The contingent of “experienced British military officers” will help the rebels organize communications and logistics, Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement from London. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said its warplanes bombed a convoy of Qaddafi loyalist armored-vehicles bound for the besieged port city of Misrata, where NATO has been unable to stave off attacks that have killed and injured civilians.
As the nearly monthlong violence in Misrata intensified, rebels still struggled to take and hold cities in Libya’s central coastal areas, the focus of most of the fighting since the uprising began in February. Many Qaddafi forces have changed tactics and use pickup trucks similar to those of the rebels.
“Developments change on the ground so what we have to do to implement the UN resolution does change over time,” Hague said in a Sky News television interview. “I expect other countries also to be involved in this but they must make their own announcements.”
The U.K. said its military team is within the framework of the five-week-old United Nations mandate authorizing the military intervention. British officers won’t be involved in training or arming rebels or planning military operations.
“At the moment on the ground, I don’t know if it’s a stalemate; certainly it’s not necessarily moving forward,” Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, said today in Rome. “The eastern front is constantly moving up and down. It’s fluid, but it’s in the same area.”
Allied targets overnight included a rocket battery firing into Misrata as well as the headquarters south of Tripoli of the elite 32nd brigade, which has been commanded by Muammar Qaddafi’s youngest son, Khamis. That military force has spearheaded operations threatening civilians, NATO said.
Five days after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told alliance foreign ministers in Berlin that commanders needed more ground-attacks jets, Brigadier General Mark van Uhm said the alliance had more military assets than it did last week. He declined to say what the new assets were or which countries had supplied them.
Van Uhm, the mission’s chief of allied operations, said more than 30 percent of Qaddafi’s military forces had been eliminated.
Earlier, the Italian government said it’s helping Libyan rebels sell oil from the opposition-held parts of the country.
“We are working to allow the sale of oil products” from rebel areas “through the use of transparent financial instruments,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said at a press conference in Rome after meeting with the head of Libya’s rebel council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
The rebels have agreed to honor existing treaties between Italy and Libya, Frattini said. Oil exports from Libya, which has Africa’s biggest oil reserves, dropped by about 1.3 million barrels a day to a “trickle,” the Paris-based International Energy Agency said last month.
Oil fell for a second day amid signals that oil prices at their highest level since 2008 are pressuring the economy and may cause fuel demand to falter. Crude oil for May delivery fell 42 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $106.70 a barrel at 9:48 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, prices touched $105.50. Futures have risen 31 percent in the past year.
NATO aircraft enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone and sanctions on Libya flew 53 missions to identify and engage possible ground targets on April 17.
[Source: By Patrick Donahue and Jeffrey Donovan, Bloomberg, NY, 19Apr11]
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